Mr Finish Line
Vulfpeck’s Hipster-Funk would be easy to dismiss were they not so damn good. Viral videos and the earlier EPs suggested fun and energy – and funk and soul too. Chops galore. A love of music, a sense of humour, just enough heart too. And maybe Mr Finish Line is too slow, too soft, too R’n’B for fans of the earlier material. But it’s not easy to dismiss this – despite it being too clean, too white, too sac-less all up. Because there are some great moments here still – in a music-school trace-around version of funk (Running Away), in a little disco-tinged hop, skip and jump (Tee Time); in a throwback to 70s sitcom soundtracks way (Hero Town).
The playing is sublime.
I wanted it dirtier. I wanted some grit. But if I think more of Steely Dan than James Brown I’m happy enough hearing this. And the whole thing might be worth it for Michael Bland’s guest spot behind the skins on Hero Town. Here the New Power Generation drummer sits down for a bit of no-fills, no-frills funk with a pop bounce. His old bandleader would be smiling down no doubt.
One of Bland’s heroes, James Gadson, adds his magic-touch to Grandma. Another of the album’s highlights. Another reason to check in on this and not simply dismiss. David T. Walker’s on that track too – so it’s a subtle masterclass of subdued, sublime groove.
But where’s the real kick in all of this. Too much of it sounds like if BADBADNOTGOOD impersonated the Beastie Boys covering Bennie & The Jets, and what bands like BADBAD and Vulfpeck miss is that it’s the raw edges that really inspire, it’s the hint of perspiration rather than this rub-your-tummy/pat-your head party-trick funk that sticks.
By the time Bootsy Collins arrives on the closing Captain Hook I wish it was a Quasimoto track not trust-fund trace-around funk’n’groove.
But the best bits here still shine – because of the great playing, the supreme skill and the nice throwbacks to a 70s-styled soul-groove. Opener Birds of a Feather, We Rock Together (originally by Mocky) transcends twee, the title track is just a little too novelty-lite but there’s nothing on here that’s flat out terrible. They’re too good as players. Just a little too clever at times. That’s the issue here. And there are some missed opportunities. Did they think it wrong to ask Michael McDonald along since he’d already done the thing with Thundercat? Seems like a missed opportunity when the whole feel of Tee Time is McDonald-era Doobies.
A frustrating but sometimes wonderful album this. It’s like a show-reel more than an album too. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
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